The first indication was the road cones. There were no road works, yet bright orange cones lined the sides and centre of State Highway 1.
Then there was the marquee pitched halfway across the road, and a figure in a mask waving down traffic and approaching the window.
Turn around, he said, and go back the way you came. This is Ngāti Kuri territory and the iwi has decided that none shall enter. In this way, it was said, the virus will be kept at bay.
Across the North, there are roadblocks. So, too, is the road closed on the road to East Cape. Other parts of New Zealand that can claim to be as isolated have also closed access.
The action was driven by Māori. Among those who took action was activist and former MP Hone Harawira, whose very existence is inflammatory for some.
Was it Harawira's involvement that sent people wild? Was it the mental image of towering Māori figures in masks stopping traffic? Did it revive the iwi/kiwi argument, in which it was argued that hypothetical Pākehā community groups wouldn't have "got away with it".
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National leader Simon Bridges railed against the collapse of law and order. His police spokesman Mark Mitchell - a former police officer - says "the law is the law" and the law says you can't stop traffic unless you're a police officer.
It was political correctness and a politically correct police commissioner, fumed talkback host Sean Plunket.
"Anarchy," Plunket huffed.
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In the north Hokianga, at the Pawarenga roadblock, the silence of the countryside was broken by birdsong.
If this was anarchy, it had the sweetest sound.
Te Hapua village is our northern-most settlement, deep in Ngāti Kuri land. It is so distant, high school children spend two hours on a bus to get to Kaitaia College, then two hours home again. The lockdown gives them back at least four hours a day.
The State Highway 1 roadblock at Ngataki, north of Pukenui, restricts access to Te Hapua and others parts of the country few visit for reasons other than tourism and whānau.
These places have always been, and remain, largely Māori communities.
It was here in the North the hammer fell hardest when the influenza pandemic of 1918 struck. Official records fail to tell truths uncovered years later yet always known in these communities - the death toll was much higher than government data claimed.
The truth was, when death arrived it was already too late and that the dying would continue, cutting through the heart of these communities. It was also true Māori would be worst affected, living in conditions of greater poverty and in a more communal way than Pākehā communities.
Worst affected, too, because it is also true - today as it was then - that if you're looking to central government for help, then you're looking to a place that barely glances back.
At the bridge in Panguru, you can look back east to the urupā at which Dame Whina Cooper is buried. The roadblock here blocks passage through to Mitimiti, Rangi Point and Te Karaka, where Dame Whina was born.
Years after the 1918 pandemic, Dame Whina recalled the horror: "Everyone was sick, no one to help. They were dying one after the other … My father [Heremia Te Wake] was very sick then. He was the first to die. I couldn't do anything for him.
"There were many others, you could see them on the roads, on sledges, the ones that are able to drag them away, dragged them to the cemetery. No time for tangis…"
The bodies were taken to Panguru school, which was the only place they could be stored.
Today, at that bridge, is Mina Pomare, principal at Te Kura Taumata O Panguru, the Panguru Area School. She's had her shift at the roadblock and is here speaking because, when you have a unified community approach, it makes sense to have a designated speaker when outsiders come.
"We have a mass grave too," she says. "We've grown up with it. I know where they are."
As the virus spread globally, this small community in New Zealand began talking. Consultation was extensive. "We discussed it for ages." The knowledge gathered created depth in topics that seemed shallow, and revealed to Panguru it stood on a precipice of effort were it to take action.
Pomare said the "enormity of the job" became apparent - procedures for safety wear, rosters for four-hour shifts, scripts designed to deal with unfolding situations. Advice was sought and received from the local health board and Civil Defence. Nurses from the community contributed knowledge.
It is staffed 24 hours a day. Dressed in protective clothing, sanitiser at hand, they call out familiar greetings to locals approaching the checkpoint then ask where they are going, or where they have been, and why.
There are about 20 essential workers in the area. All are on a list and they all get a grilling too, along with support and advice on how to stay safe and virus-free at their workplaces.
It was never going to be easy. The community decided at the outset those who could enter were those who were there at the beginning. It has meant turning away whānau returning from Australia, living in Auckland or closer.
Police were present on one of the two occasions the Herald visited, an absence that again puts uncomfortable pressure on the Commissioner's assurance to the Epidemic Select Committee that officers were at every checkpoint.
And it's much the same in other areas. Pawarenga sits on the southern side of Whangape Harbour - next up the west coast from Hokianga - and those living there have their own stories of mass graves.
In this community, like others in the Far North, there was consultation. Kuia and kaumatua were consulted, the past considered, decisions made, roadblocks established and the world shut out.
There, as in other places, was an acceptance the roadblock would shut out more whānau than anyone else seeking access. The Herald has spoken to one whānau denied access for a tangi, who then buried their relative in the Bay of Plenty instead. Another whānau is angry and frustrated at being divided - a mother waits in the village for her two adult daughters, made redundant from tourism jobs in the Bay of Islands, who were refused entry when they attempted to return to their family home. Appeals by whānau to police have done little so far.
And yet, what option was there? As the pandemic unfolded, central government obsessed over world events while these communities worried about their own survival. Trust in government is tenuous here; locals know Wellington has done little to help - and plenty to harm - in the past.
Instead, the multitude of small Parliaments in the Far North - our marae - made decisions for their communities. It's been an exercise of self-determination and a show of self-reliance.
In their own communities, for their own people, it is an exercise of sovereignty. It is tino rangatiratanga.
Colonisation and disease
To understand what confronted these isolated Māori communities is to embrace stories New Zealand has been willing to forget.
When colonisation began, Europeans introduced not only themselves but diseases to which they had developed an immunity.
In 1840, the Māori population was estimated to be about 100,000. By 1900, it had been reduced - largely by disease - to 40,000. This was not unique to New Zealand. Colonisation in the Americas killed so many indigenous people that a new, recent, study found it led to the average global temperature dropping as a result of agricultural land becoming overgrown, increasing carbon dioxide consumption.
The Māori population began to recover in the early 1900s. Then in 1913, smallpox arrived through a visiting Mormon missionary and wreaked havoc in the Far North. Most of the 2000 recorded cases were Māori; 55 people were killed before a mass vaccination programme halted the spread.
The numbers were likely under-reported, as Canterbury university emeritus professor Dr Geoff Rice discovered in his research into the influenza epidemic in 1918.
The New Zealand population at the time was about 1.1 million, of which about 50,000 were Māori. Rice's estimates have about 2500 Māori dying from influenza (5 per cent of the population) and about 6600 Pākehā (about 0.5 per cent). By official death tolls, Māori died at a rate sometimes 20 times that of Pākehā.
"It hit Hokianga very hard," he said. "It really was the most awful visitation for remote Māori communities."
There were reasons Māori suffered. Then, as now, Māori were in our poorest communities. For these and cultural reasons, Māori lived in closer, more communal proximity. Also, there were no roads to many of these remote communities. Once the virus found its way in, it was hard for help to follow.
Isolation proved a curse, too. Remote communities missed the mild first wave, which protected the wider population as it passed through. Knowledge which helped combat the virus - like drinking a lot of water - failed to reach places who were denying liquid to those suffering, believing it was best.
There were then, as there are now, issues with Māori health that don't appear in other populations. When the virus comes calling, some fruit hang lower than others.
And there were roadblocks then, too. In Whangārei, citizens put wagons across roads and - by some accounts - armed themselves "to stop Māori coming into town", Rice said.
"I think the racism was very, very strong then. When it came to small country towns, Pākehā would look after their own."
When Rice came to research it, he found our society had seemingly tried to forget. Records from the time were patchy, and he went on to discover the number of Māori who died were greater than the official record.
The context of disease coming with colonisation, and the horror of 1918, make sense of what has unfolded, Rice says.
"There's such a tremendous ignorance on the part of the Pākehā people on what a struggle Māori have had.
"The response of the roadblocks was such a natural, predictable response. They had the knowledge of what was behind them."
"The law is the law," says Mark Mitchell, former police officer and now the National Party's police spokesman.
"I think the police have damaged their reputation and undermined themselves with a lot of Kiwis."
In Mitchell's view, there are better ways of managing matters. For communities, understanding what they were trying to achieve is the starting point and then engaging with authorities to make that happen.
He accepts the initial days of the pandemic response - moving into lockdown - were extremely busy.
But Mitchell says the roadblock actions - no matter where they take place - represent a "fundamental rule of law" issue.
Mitchell: "There's never an excuse for taking the law into your own hands."
Excuses? Those who live in these communities talk of reasons, not excuses. Among them is Kelvin Davis, Minister for Māori Crown Relations, who grew up with these people, hearing these stories. He is also MP for Te Tai Tokerau, the Māori electorate seat that covers the North.
In the Bay of Islands, at Kāretu marae - to which he turns - there are 10 metres of unmarked graves, he says. "We don't know who our relations are that are buried there, which is bloody tragic."
Davis also recognises the impact of European arrival and the disease that travelled with the colonisers.
"You can understand why Māori communities want to prevent that from happening again. Good on them, to be honest."
The National Party position is "an entirely political response", he says, designed to elicit exactly the outraged response it drew.
For Davis, though, the context and an understanding of the communities involved makes an enormous difference.
"When your whānau's lives are at risk, what do you do? Sit around and do nothing? When your whānau is at risk, you do what you can to protect them.
"There's very little you can do [against Covid-19] but what they could do, they did."